Welcome to the Ancora String Quartet’s new blog! We are very excited about this new opportunity to communicate with our friends and fans, and we look forward to giving you a look behind the curtain at our work as a quartet, and to reading your responses, comments and suggestions. Marika will be doing most of the writing, but the blog will see occasional cameo appearances from Leanne, Robin and Benjamin, as well as others in the music community.
The ASQ just gave an adult education class Monday evening April 30 at the wonderful venue where we are in residence, the First Unitarian Society of Madison. Twenty-some inquiring souls came to hear about the Mendelssohn Octet, which is on our upcoming recital programs there, scheduled for May 19 and 20.
Marika took the floor for the first part of the class, giving some background info about our group and this season, ‘The Musician and his Muse,’ before focusing on the composer, his early life and training, and then the piece itself.
Audience members were amused at the description of the 12-year-old composer by a visitor to the Mendelssohn household, Wilhelm Karlowitsch Küchelbecker, in 1820: “Never have I seen such a perfectly beautiful youth. His dark locks fell in natural freedom halfway down his back, his snow-white neck and chest were open, his dark southern eyes glowed and betrayed future conquests over souls! His small, roseate mouth seemed to have been shaped for kisses; in his voice resonated a spirit that knew and felt more than one thought usual for one of his age to know and feel.” (from Larry Todd’s Mendelssohn: A Life In Music).
This description may seem over the top until one sees a painting of Felix from that time:
Oil sketch of Felix by Karl Begas, 1821
Marika went on to explain the back-story of the famous third movement of the Octet, the incredible, sparkling Scherzo. Apparently inspired by the Walpurgis-Night Dream scene in Goethe’s Faust, Mendelssohn created an unforgettable aural depiction of the fairy insect orchestra described in this play-within-a-play, with its buzzing flies, trilling mosquitoes, chirping crickets, frogs, toads, and a bagpipe blowing soap bubbles, all led by a diminutive Kapellmeister, accompanying the assembled enchanted dream-characters in one of the fairy dances for which Mendelssohn is so well-known.
Benjamin picked up on the idea of the fairy dance in the second hour of the class; with a gravity that withstood his colleagues’ smothered mirth, he embarked on an intellectual inquiry into what we *really* know about fairies and their dances. They are small, light, and scamper about quickly, Benjamin solemnly intoned, and he went on to predict how a composer might translate these fairy-like qualities into music.
We were then treated to audio excerpts of many examples of these fairy dances, in scherzos from Mendelssohn’s quartets, piano trios, and of course, the orchestral Overture and Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Benjamin concluded by saying that while Mendelssohn gave us many beautiful examples of music that is lyrical, march-like, exultant, triumphant, stormy, and many other moods, it is really in this charming music of the fairy dance where the composer distinguished himself from all other composers, establishing and excelling in this special musical genre, and using his music to thin the veil that usually separates mere mortals from the world of the spirits.